Could World Cup be Bale’s goodbye to the global stage?
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — With Wales on the verge of World Cup elimination, Gareth Bale was dismissive when asked if Tuesday’s game against England could be the last for his country.
“Nope,” was his one-word answer. He chose not to elaborate.
While questions hang over Bale’s long-term future, Wales’ concerns are more immediate.
If Wales fails to beat England in its final Group B game it is out of the World Cup. But even a win might not be enough to secure qualification to the knockout stages.
“We’re disappointed in the results and the performances,” Bale said Monday. “But that’s football, it’s not easy, it’s a World Cup. We don’t need to get anyone going — we just need to keep working hard and hopefully things will turn around for us.”
The 1-1 draw with the United States in Wales’ opening game, when Bale scored a penalty to tie, was a solid enough start.
But a 2-0 loss to Iran has put Wales in jeopardy of World Cup elimination.
So it is understandable that Bale had little interest in engaging in discussion about his storied career and what remains for his playing days.
He was asked how a win against England and moving into the round of 16 would rank against his five Champions League trophies with Real Madrid.
“I’ll let you know if it happens,” he said curtly.
At 33, Bale doesn’t need to be told occasions like this might be over for him once Wales’ World Cup adventure ends.
After leading his country to the semifinals of Euro 2016 and through to the knockout stages of Euro 2020, he ended Wales’ 64-year wait to qualify for a World Cup. But his influence is declining, as has been evident in Wales’ opening two games.
Meanwhile, other key players in Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen are also past their peak. With a lack of obvious replacements coming through, qualification for another major tournament may not be on the horizon any time soon.
Bale has also said goodbye to elite European football – joining MLS team Los Angeles FC in the summer.
In short, his opportunities to play in front of a global audience could be scarce beyond Qatar.
But it would be unwise to write off a player who has made a career of producing game-changing moments on the biggest occasions.
That’s a fact England coach Gareth Southgate noted when was asked to pay tribute to one of British soccer’s greats. In his mind, Bale represents a very live threat.
“He’s had a fantastic — or is having a fantastic career,” he said. “Clearly his club career and what he won with Real Madrid is phenomenal. We know that he’s capable of those individual moments of brilliance in the penalty area and from distance as well. Free kicks, of course, are a great strength.”
Perhaps no team at the World Cup is more reliant on one player as Wales is with Bale.
Not Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo – or Argentina with Lionel Messi.
“I do the same as I always do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Bale. “Sometimes I have a good game, sometimes I don’t. It’s football, it’s difficult to always play well.
“I will give everything, like I always do for my country. I will just try to lead by example and hopefully that’s enough on the day. That is all I can do.”
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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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